Vanilla cakes are always one of my favorites. I love it when the creamy floral sweetness of vanilla comes through in any baked good, but when you pair a vanilla can with a vanilla frosting, you get a burst of vanilla flavor that is impossible not to enjoy. This Very Vanilla Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Buttercream is more than just “plain vanilla” and is a great cake for any occasion, from an everyday treat to a birthday celebration.
The cake batter itself is easy to make and has the unusual addition of hot milk. The milk does not need to be boiling (no need to risk scalding it), but it does need to be very hot when you add it to the batter. The hot milk produces a more tender cake that will really melt in your mouth when it is served. Despite its tenderness, the cake is still quite sturdy and is easy to stack in layers – even if you decide to use this recipe as a base for a much taller cake.
The cake gets its vanilla from vanilla extract and vanilla bean. Real vanilla bean gives you the best vanilla flavor and leaves you with beautiful vanilla flecks in the cake. If you don’t have a real vanilla bean available, you can use vanilla bean paste instead, which will give you a similar look. There is vanilla bean in the vanilla cream cheese frosting, as well, and you can feel free to substitute vanilla bean paste to get the look here, too. I used a 2-to-1 ratio of butter to cream cheese in the frosting, which gives it a nice flavor but makes it a little bit easier to work with than the usual 1-to-1 cream cheese frosting. This one is easy to spread and thick enough to pipe on, if you want to use it to dress the cake up a bit more.
To add more layers to your cake, these cakes could easily be cut in half and stacked with a bit more icing to create a four-layer cake. Since this cake recipe is one of my favorites, I didn’t want to upset the cake-to-frosting ratio in favor of the frosting here. That said, if you were to use a frosting that had a more unusual flavor – like coffee, toffee or dark chocolate – you might want to split those layers to make more space for additional frosting/filling. It all comes down to personal preference – and whether or not you want to spend a few extra minutes stacking your cake up!
No matter how you stack it, this cake will keep well for 2-3 days after baking when kept in an airtight container or well-sealed cake plate. If you would like to prepare the cake layers the night before assembling the cake, you can. Simply bake and cool the cake layers, then wrap them up with plastic wrap and unwrap when you are ready to frost and assemble.
Very Vanilla Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Buttercream
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar together at medium-high speed until the mixture has at least tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds using the back of a knife or a spoon. Add to sugar mixture and beat to incorporate. Whisk in flour mixture by hand or with the mixer at low speed.
In the meantime, combine butter and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to melt the butter. Remove from heat and add in vanilla extract. Allow to cool slightly, about 2 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually incorporate the hot milk mixture into the cake batter until batter is uniform.
Divide evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for about 24-26 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool for about 5 minutes in the pans, then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely before frosting.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Buttercream
16-oz (1 cup) butter, room temperature
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese and milk until smooth.
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds using the back of a knife or a spoon. Add vanilla to butter mixture, along with vanilla extract and salt. Gradually blend in the sugar until frosting is thick and creamy, and the vanilla is well-distributed. Frosting should be thick enough to spread easily and hold its shape.
Makes 1 layer cake; Serves 10-12.